Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

What She Left – T.R. Richmond

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction
4*’s

I’ll be honest I read some reviews of this book before I read it that were less than effusive with the result that when I came to read it I was fairly sure I wouldn’t enjoy it, I was wrong. It was an incredible read which reflects on what we leave behind when we die as much as it is about the mystery of how Alice Salmon dies.

Alice Salmon was drunk, she got separated from her friends in a night out in Southampton and ends up drowning in the river. How she died, no-one knows. Was it suicide? Was it murder? Or was it simply a tragic accident?

Professor Jeremy Cooke who is part of the anthropology faculty at the university attempts to document Alice’s life with a view to find out what happened. Jeremy is definitely an odd character who feels that he has a connection with Alice because he knew her mother, furthermore he’d taken an interest in Alice when she attended the university before starting her career in journalism. The overarching narrative comes from Jeremy in the form of a handwritten letter to his friend, another leading scientist, but the larger part is made up from contemporary sources; text messages, twitter, facebook as well as media interviews and blogs.

I like the fresh approach to the writing style, it didn’t feel like a gimmick given that I believe the author’s point is that when we die, these electronic footprints don’t disappear. I can’t be the only person that has noticed that the media seize on facebook photos of anyone who finds themselves part of an investigation, which one they pick can be used to reflect what ‘story’ they are trying to sell. Jeremey’s approach is to put all these pieces together, almost as if he is trying to bring Alice back to life, if he can gather all the trails of her interactions with her friends, her family and her boyfriend Luke together everyone will get to see the full picture. The fact that we all know that someone’s essence doesn’t live on the pages of their diary or their text messages doesn’t matter because what it does, is bring another element of their life into focus, what it can’t do is say which part is more important than another and the author really does bring into the play that humans are contradictory beings. What Jeremy does uncover though is the sequence of events on the night in question, long after the police had shelved their operation, and the best thing is that reader gets to put the same jigsaw puzzle together.

As the story is told about Alice after her death, she did seem a bit remote, I didn’t care as much as I’d expect to about her life, in fact I had more concern for her mother and how she was coping with the revelations as well as her past coming back to haunt her but maybe that’s just a sign of my age!!

I received my copy of this book through Amazon Vine for review purposes and I will definitely be eager to see what this talented debut novelist produces next. What She Left was published on 23 April 2015 by Michael Joseph.

Author:

A book lover who clearly has issues as obsessed with crime despite leading a respectable life

22 thoughts on “What She Left – T.R. Richmond

  1. Hi Cleo,

    Your excellent review and the fact that your opinion of this book was so opposite to that of many others, who gave it such disappointing ratings and reviews, only re-affirms my own view that reviewing books is really a very subjective process on the whole, as we all absorb a storyline differently.

    Whilst maybe not a book I shall be rushing to buy, I wouldn’t necessarily turn down the chance to read it, if one came along.

    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Yvonne.

    1. Thank you Yvonne, you are quite right in the subjective nature of reading. For me comparing this with the very different historical read The Dead Duke.. I was struck by how much we appear to leave electronically these days and how much that really tells anyone about ‘us’ so on that level the book worked extremely well. It helped that the unusual narrative was perfectly in tune with the message… Glad to have provided you with another viewpoint. 🙂

  2. It’s this anthropology aspect of it that I find beguiling, so I’m glad to hear that it works for you. I haven’t read it yet either and was perhaps tempted to keep pushing it back on my TBR list (I do have it on my e-reader) because of less than enthusiastic reviews. But I really like the premise.

    1. One of the things I did like about the Professor was that I understood why he felt the need to make Alice into a study on a professional level although he had personal reasons for ‘needing’ to carry out his research. I think the fact that this was a key element made the unlinear collection of artefacts more understandable, it wasn’t done for show but rather to realistically imitate the more traditional type of study.

  3. Thank you for this excellent review, Cleo. This is an intriguing story; I assume that the more negative reviews were due to the respective readers expectations. This is unfortunately a common human trait: my expectations are not met, this is bad.
    I am glad that this was an enjoyable read for you.

    1. I think there is probably an element of that, I hear this book was subject to a ‘bidding war’ and to be fair I think this is quite a novel approach in terms of structure. I am pleased that I had this one as a traditional printed book, I imagine all the excerpts would be harder to see in electronic format. I’m really glad I read it, I think it got is message across, perhaps too well!

    1. Amazon Vine is a program whereby reviewers get goods (in the early days mainly books) in return for reviews. I’ve had some really great books through this but nowadays NetGalley gives me wider choice.

  4. I’m very glad you enjoyed this one, Cleo. The premise (using anthropology to piece the truth of someone’s life) is really interesting, so on that score, I’m interested. Even if some aspects of the book weren’t what you’d expected, I’m glad the overall result was that you liked it.

    1. I loved the anthropology link and the examples used showing how some pieces of information taken out of context could give a totally different impression of someone. I think the fact that I couldn’t relate to Alice was partly because of the way her life was reconstructed but it was still a great read.

  5. I love books told in interesting ways – such as epistolary novels. And the update today – social media. I’m interested in this book for that fact alone. I’ll be watching for it.

    1. You’re very welcome, I loved the anthropology angle which was the linchpin for this book and as a result couldn’t help but wonder how I’d be perceived from the books I review and talk about on social media!

  6. What an intriguing-sounding book. I rather like the idea of electronic footprints being the main archive material left behind. I think I’ll have to look out for this one!

  7. The narrative structure of this is what interests me. As you say, when tragedies or mysteries happen, our media mines Facebook and Twitter to explore a life. I like the sound of this a lot.

    1. It is a fascinating study of what impression we can leave behind. I often feel sorry for the families when random pictures are used by the media to make a point. The messages left on blogs are also typical of how many people seem to want a piece of a tragedy. Sad reflection of our times in many ways…. interesting though and backed up by a mystery.

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